In this essay I am going to discuss the modernist architect Le Corbusier and his proposal for a new modernist city, and whether these values have been successfully used to shape urban planning
As described by Glaeser (2011), ‘cities magnify human strengths’. This is what Le Corbusier wanted to achieve with a modern city. Corbusier was a believer of Taylorism, Taylor’s theory supported the concept that the city should be a catalyst for the social and economic change that was occurring during modernity and that different sections of the city should have different purposes. Old ideologies where replaced with new ones during this period. This futuristic ideology is seen throughout modernism.
Corbusier had a vision of a contemporary social utopia in the form of high rise buildings. He proposed the ‘Radiant City’; This would involve destroying western Paris and creating cruciform towers for offices and large open green spaces. The radiant city seems almost mechanical and depicts a city of order and efficiency. All areas of life where separate, residential work and leisure areas where clearly zoned. The aim of this plan was to solve problems of decongestion but also increase the density of the population whilst maintaining large open green spaces. This would be achieved using levelled transportation, for example heavier traffic would be below ground whilst pedestrian roads would be raised so that both where separate. This creates large open space whilst still being a functioning city.
However, some would argue the true purpose was to raise property values. After the great depression Robert Moses found the slum areas in New York repulsive, often describing them as a cancer. He believed in applying Corbusier’s modernist logic and destroying and rebuilding would solve the problems in New York. This is the early signs of gentrification which occurs in many cities. Whilst the city may become more aesthetically pleasing, the inhabitants can no longer afford to live there.
Jacobs views where more community approached, ‘cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only when they are created by everybody’, (Jane Jacobs, 1961). Jacobs believed that city planners should look at how the city is being used by the people and then improve on these qualities. She believed that all the city is connected including old and new buildings and crowded streets. Whilst it may look chaotic, it is an ‘ecosystem’ that functions due to the connections and interactions between people. She saw that you couldn’t decide how people would use the city by designing it a certain way, you must design the city based on how people interact in the city.
Corbusier’s theory for city planning is shown to have influenced Lúcio Costa in the city plan for Brasilia showing perfectly geometrical and zoned into separate areas. However, Jacobs theories for city planning show in the failures of Brasilia and other apartment blocks in cities. The people wanted public spaces and these areas became poor and centres of crime. From this perspective Le Corbusier’s planning theory is not a successful urban planning strategy.
Overall, I think Corbusier’s ‘radiant city’ is successful as a city planning strategy in some ways. Corbusier’s drawings were pivotal in modernist architecture and have influenced city planners since. This is shown by the number of cities around the world with high rise buildings and green spaces. Therefore Corbusiers ideas have been interpreted in city planning today. However, there are some areas in which this theory is unsuccessful. Corbusier was interested in modernity and disregarding the old. This ‘mechanical city’ is designed for efficiency and doesn’t consider the people living in the city. Furthermore, the way city planners have interpreted Corbusiers designs often results in poor social housing that has high crime rates. This shows that whilst Corbusier has influenced city planning, high rise housing may not be the answer for an expanding city population.